Earlier this week Regal Cinemas “officially” launched their all-you-can watch moviegoing subscription and we now have actual details to review (as we will below). The reason for the quotation marks around the word – officially – is because it was one of the worst kept secrets in the exhibition business.
By June 21st of this year, news about what the circuit has dubbed Regal Unlimited began to trickle out in not-so-official ways when a brochure for the upcoming programme was leaked on Reddit. We reached out to executives at Regal at the time, though never heard back; not with additional information, nor with any denial (which may have been some form of a denial or “no comment”). Shortly after Deadline ran a whole story, billed as an “exclusive,” which reiterated the Reddit post. Then on July 25th, Deadline weighed in once again to say that the plan was now available to the public, though it wasn’t until July 29th that an official press release was issued by Regal.
Maybe it’s just us, but this slow drip approach meant the announcement didn’t land with the earth-shaking thunderclap that occurred when AMC announced its Stubs A-List programme or, prior to that, when MoviePass lowered its pricing to an unrealistic USD $9.99. Sure the news was picked up by some of the usual suspects like /Film, The Verge and USA Today, but the Wall Street Journal, and even some of the trades, gave it only a passing mention. Perhaps the debut of another moviegoing subscription service has become passé. Kind of the way none of the broadcast networks carried the launch of Apollo 13 in 1970 since humans had already been sent to the moon four times by then.
What Took So Long?
Of those within the industry we wound up speaking with to get their musings on Regal Unlimited, a few were actually unaware it was finally “live.” Most had the same thought we did; what took so long? Cineworld, which purchased Regal in early 2018, has been running it’s own unlimited plan in the United Kingdom for well over a decade now. Surely they had loads of data they could crunch to analyse whether a similar offering in the United States could fly.
Cineworld had previously telegraphed that one issue of duplicating their U.K. subscription program at Regal is the economic differences between a country with a population of 66 million as opposed to the U.S. with its 327 million residents spread across a disparate array of income levels.
The geography pain point is one that has tripped up both MoviePass and AMC. They realized there is a huge contrast between offering a low flat-price unlimited moviegoing subscription in a large metropolitan area such as Chicago with its high ticket prices, as opposed to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where ticket prices might be far lower. Earlier this year AMC raised it’s A-List monthly fee for states with higher ticket prices to as high as USD $23.95 from the original USD $19.95.
Still, with AMC Stubs A-List having now surpassed 860,000 subscribers, and Cinemark’s Movie Club plan nearing 600,000 patrons, every month Regal delayed in launching their own offering meant losing out on potential customers. As well, with MoviePass recently taking an indefinite hiatus and Sinemia abandoning its consumer product, there may have been some stranded moviegoing subscribers looking for a new home.
Let’s face it, once moviegoers enter into a subscription plan it becomes harder to get them to switch, especially if they’ve paid for a year in advance. Think about how often you switch wireless phone services. And unlike movie or television streaming services, it is unlikely that moviegoers will sign up for more than one plan. If you subscribe to Spotify, are you also going to subscribe to Apple Music if it has the same exact content?
Of course, Regal is not competing directly with AMC or Cinemark in every single geographic market. In some cities Regal is the only player and it would make sense for moviegoers to subscribe to their Unlimited Plan over A-List since the nearest AMC theatre might be hundreds of kilometres away. Similarly, there are some cities where AMC is the dominant cinema chain. Phoenix, Arizona is a great example of this.
Unlimited Plan Cubed
Solving the geographic conundrum is one way Regal is attempting to differentiate the Unlimited Plan from AMC’s subscription. Rather than lump all the theatres in an entire state into one price point, the company has created groups of theatres at three different price points:
- Regal Unlimited (200 Theatres) – USD $18.00/month or USD $216.00/year
- Regal Unlimited Plus (400 Theatres) – USD $21.00/month or USD $252.00/year
- Regal Unlimited All Access (550+ Theatres) – $23.50/month or USD $282.00/year
If you want to see a movie at the Regal Edwards in West Covina, California then you need to subscribe to the Unlimited Plan for USD $18 per month. But drive 33 kilometres west into Los Angeles and you’ll need to be in the Regal Unlimited All Access Plan to buy a ticket for the far more pricey Regal L.A. Live multiplex. All or most of the theatres in rural states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Louisana and Mississippi are part of the Unlimited Plan, whereas all of those in Hawaii fall into the Unlimited Plus Plan.
It could get a tad frustrating if you happen to be in a state like California which has theatres in all three categories. Though if you have the Unlimited Plan you can still see a movies at theatres that fall into either of the more expensive plans; you just have to pay a surcharge of between USD $1.50-$3.00 per ticket. In addition, there are surcharges for ScreenX, 4DX, IMAX, RPX and 3D formats, as well as auditoriums with VIP, premium or recliner seating.
Regal might want to be careful about annoying subscribers who show up to see a movie with their membership cards only to find out it’s in an auditorium with recliners and they must pay a surcharge. Keeping track of which theatre is in which plan and which auditoriums at a specific theatre will require a surcharge could create a whole, “Whose on first?” confusing scenario.
Another differentiator for Regal’s Unlimited Plan(s) is that the exhibitor isn’t limiting subscribers to three movies per week, as is the case with AMC’s A-List. Regal is making sure to highlight the “No Weekly Limit” concept in their promotional material. Someone probably did the math and realized that even at a 20-plex there are only so many movies opening each month at a given location and thanks to minimum week run requirements from distributors the turnover of titles could easily throttle usage.
As with AMC’s plan, Regal is offering a 10% discount on food and non-alcoholic drinks. Unlike AMC however, Regal reduces, but does not do away with, the convenience charge for reserving tickets in advance; that will cost an additional USD $0.50 per ticket. Almost certainly this has to do with some fee that Regal is being charged for ticket transactions by a third-party provider that they could not get out of passing along to their customers.
What The Future Holds
When MoviePass was still going strong, or more specifically, still allowing its subscribers to actually see movies, some of the big winners were independent or low budget films that had their grosses slightly increased by audiences willing to risk seeing a movie they weren’t familiar with or would have otherwise waited to see later on home video. The subscription plans offered by AMC, Regal and frankly any other exhibitor, provide the opportunity to boost smaller movies.
Take this a step further and, given enough of a subscriber base, you could see exhibitors working directly with distributors to share in some of the profits from breakage in return for variable or discounted pricing on subscriber tickets to certain titles. Though our friend Jim Amos believes variable pricing is a necessity whether a ticket is purchased via a subscription or not, we may be deluding ourselves that exhibitors and distributors could ever get to a point where they could collaborate on a discounted ticket of any type.
What do you think of the Regal Unlimited Plan? Indeed, what do you think of subscription moviegoing in general? We are curious to hear what our knowledgable readers have to say about this growing trend in the exhibition industry. Let us know in the comments below.